Welcome to Lefler Middle School. Grab your breakfast, change out books at your locker, and head to class.
Complete the objective written on the board, finish your juice and yogurt, and we’ll begin the rest of class in a few minutes.
Grab-n-Go breakfasts at Lefler, 1100 S. 48th St., are the first of its kind for the school and Lincoln Public Schools. Students wait outside their grade-level entry door, then at 7:50 a.m., the breakfast eaters get in line for cereal, a drink, and other nutrition-minded food.
When students eat breakfast at home, they may go five to six hours before they have lunch at school. But, even more likely, middle school students skip breakfast, which means they don't eat anything from bedtime to lunchtime the next day.
That had Principal Jessie Carlson concerned.
School nurse Sharon Baker noticed it. Teachers, too. Students would complain of hunger, lose focus easily and disrupt others. Teachers would either provide some small snacks of their own, or send the student to the nurse’s office where some snacks were available.
A lost breakfast had once again turned into lost instruction time.
The Lefler leadership team began picking up ideas from others schools, both nationally and in-state ones like Grand Island Public Schools and Norris Public Schools. Those schools provided models that show breakfast at school can lead to more focus, better academic achievement and improved behavior. Lefler also gets help from the YMCA, Community Learning Center, an internship program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and from nursing students at the Bryan College of Health Sciences.
These best practices – which in education means it’s backed by evidence – told Carlson and Baker it not only could be done, it had to be done.
To get it done, it required the school leadership team, nurse, nutrition staff, custodial staff and teachers, and school district staff. The models suggest students should have breakfast available at the door when they arrive, and eat in the first few minutes of class.
Students typically spend the first part of class working on a short assignment, warm-up activity, turning in papers, or writing in planners. That gives them enough time to eat, do their school work and clean up before the rest of the class continues.
“It works really well,” said sixth-grader Karlee Alrdridge. “It helps people get breakfast because sometimes they can’t come early, but now they come at the normal time and they still get breakfast.”
There were no models, however, for the physical layout of Lefler. There’s no elevator, some hallways features a few stairs up followed a few steps later by a few steps down. Carrying food and drinks up-and-down stairs or hauling them on wheels outside aren’t safe for people or food.
Thanks to a make-this-work attitude, it is now possible for students to grab their breakfast immediately after coming inside the school.
“I used to eat in the cafeteria but when they started doing this I thought was an easier way for getting everybody,” said sixth-grader Morgan Weier. “For some people, they don’t want to walk all the way up to the cafeteria and then all the way back.”
The hallway serving plan required extra work:
- internet connection was improved so computers could log-in their breakfast from the hallway just as they would for lunch in the cafeteria,
- spaces were made available for coolers and food storage,
- food distribution is made to each doorway every few days,
- coolers were purchased through various grant funding,
More one-time funding will be needed to purchases warmers to expand menu options.
“It’s a healthier breakfast for them and that’s the more important thing,” said P.E. teacher Jefferson Pappas. “They are getting good food in their system to start their day and that’s making them more successful.”
The earliest indications from parents, staff and students are positive. Baker said her long-term view dictates a culture change: students who eat breakfast in middle school are more likely to eat breakfast in high school. So students who start eating breakfast as sixth-graders are more likely to continue in seventh and eighth grades.
“Kids are developing their behaviors and their health-styles now, so if we don’t catch them now, that’s going to continue on into high school,” Baker said. “So this can be a big changer in terms of their grades and how they function.”
The numbers through two weeks show popularity is gaining quickly. On the first day, the first Monday after Spring Break, 89 students ate breakfast. The following Monday 142 students ate breakfast. The two-week high was 187, a 47 percent increase from day one.
Just eight eighth-graders ate breakfast the first morning, compared with 60 sixth-graders. But that number has risen too, with 37 eating by the end of the first week.
Making breakfast cool will be a challenge that Baker hopes will get easier each year.
Students pay $1.30 or less for each breakfast depending on their participation in the free-and-reduced lunch program. It will take about 200 students to make the program sustainable, but Carlson and her team have set 300 students as the goal.
Carlson said teachers will read more about engagement next year by reading ‘Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind’ by Eric Jensen. While poverty itself may be a factor beyond teacher control, there are ways to help all students to be more engaged and successful at school, she said. One such factor - in fact, the first such factor in the book - is a healthy breakfast.
As family lives have increased in speed, Baker said, and some students prefer sleeping in instead of eating breakfast at home, an unhealthy trend has developed.
Staff will use the book and ensuing conversation to improve engagement and instruction.
If offering a grab-n-go breakfast, at the door, at the beginning of the school day, is one way to accomplish that, then breakfast is served.
Published: April 1, 2014, Updated: April 2, 2014